Slaying The Shame Monster

“Through dangers untold and hardships unnumbered I have fought my way here to the castle beyond the Goblin City to take back the child you have stolen, for my will is as strong as yours and my kingdom as great. You have no power over me!” ~Jim Henson

Me at a time in my life when I almost made my shame escape

As I mentioned the other day, I’ve been reading The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown. It was given to me by a thoughtful, supportive friend last month, and I’ve slowly been making my way through it. The beautiful thing about Brené Brown is that her struggles and her authenticity seep from the pages of her books, making her words both relatable and heartening. She touches on so many difficult and uplifting emotions in the book that reading it has been equal parts soul-crushing reality and soul-inflating inspiration. Read about shame, guilt, perfectionism, fear, blame, and addiction and recognize how much those habits and emotions define and control you. Then read about hope, joy, play, creativity, resilience, authenticity, and self-compassion and see where you might be able to grow in a more positive direction. More than once while reading I’ve exclaimed out loud to myself in response to what I have read. Holy crap. That is me. I operate that same way. I so relate. I need to work on that. That makes so much sense. I have some work to do. I am really good at that.

The part of the book that hit me the hardest was the portion about shame. I know Brené began her work as a shame researcher, delving into the components of shame and how humans deal with or deflect it and how we can grow out of and away from it in healthy ways. So I fully expected to read about shame in this book. What I didn’t expect was to discover that for the majority of my life shame was my constant companion and operations manager. Ouch.

I shouldn’t have been surprised by this discovery. I grew up commonly hearing, “You should be ashamed of yourself” and “You’re embarrassing yourself.” Most of my reactions to events in my life were approached from a shame vantage point. Boyfriend broke up with me? Of course he did. You were acting like a needy jerk. It’s a wonder he didn’t leave you sooner. New job too much for me? Of course it is. Who do you think you are? You have no life experience. You can’t be expected to manage other human beings. Can’t stick to a diet and lose that stress-eating weight? Of course you can’t. You suck at dedication. Struggling with parenting? Of course you are. Your mother always said you were too selfish to raise children and it turns out she is right. Brené’s definition of shame snapped me like a wet, locker room towel: “Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.” It was through this lens that I grew up and approached my adult life. I was an imposter, one misstep away from everyone I knew discovering my deep secret. To deal with this, I became a perfectionist. (That is another blog post entirely.)

I was continually baffled that anyone would want to be my friend or date me. I couldn’t see what they saw. I only saw my unworthiness. Still, I must have been presenting something else to these people too. They didn’t seem to see what I was seeing. The incongruity was not lost on me, but it never once occurred to me that maybe what they were seeing was the true Justine and what I was seeing was a story I had been sold. It took decades for me to figure that out, and I’m still shredding the pages of that story and working on my rewrite.

Perhaps the most life-affirming part of this book for me has been the section on Cultivating a Resilient Spirit because this is where I shine. I grew up feeling unworthy, less than, and invisible, but I persevered and took risks. Somehow, despite all the negativity and fear, I knew deep in my core I was capable. In my late teens and early twenties, I arrived at a place where I almost was able to recognize the big lie I had been sold. I was brave enough to imagine for myself something bigger. I took steps in that direction. I stepped away from guilt and forced obligation and walked towards autonomy and growth. I stepped up. At age 22, I graduated from a four-year university, the first in our family to do so. By 23, I was starting graduate school. At 24, I voluntarily sought help and signed on with a debt relief organization to pay off tens of thousands of dollars I had accumulated in loans and credit card liability. I was adulting and taking ownership, being resilient, and moving forward.

Then I realized I’d run out of money for graduate school. Rather than rising up and trying to find a way through that financial quagmire, I took my mother’s advice and I quit because I couldn’t afford it. I fell right back into the pattern of being a fearful, self-pitying, self-loathing coward and I stayed there for another two decades, operating from the familiar mindset that told me I wasn’t worthy.

I’ve spent more of my life in that shame mindset than I have spent believing in myself. I let other people’s negativity inform my choices. I asked for advice from the wrong people. I spurned the pleas of the right people who tried to guide me towards my better angels. Now I’m grateful for the difficult day that opened my eyes and taught me who was not to be trusted with my dreams and hopes. I learned to lean towards the people who raise me up, and I walked away from those who make me feel less special, talented, helpful, kind, and important than I am. I ignore those who don’t get me or who think they know me but don’t. I face my shame, talk about it, and deconstruct it. And all of this has led me to a place where I am starting to understand who I am and to like myself.

Shame grows through secrecy, silence, and judgment. Understanding this gives me a pathway out of it. You deny it oxygen by addressing it, sharing your difficult stories with others, and walking away from those who would keep you grounded in it. I am happier more often now, able to be joyful and at peace. I make better choices and I forgive myself more easily when my choices aren’t the best. I appreciate others. I try to apologize when I screw up. I am still working on self-love and I am having a devil of a time beating the judgment out of myself and my life, but I am making progress. I’m embracing my humanity and feeling part of a bigger whole rather than feeling like a lonely pariah. I am proud of myself, dammit. It feels good.

Sharing my darkness and vulnerability is terrifying, but blogging about these shadow monsters here has changed my life. Shame has no power over me anymore because I have named it, gotten cozy with it, and discovered its weaknesses. It will never leave me because it is part of my story, but it buzzes quietly in the background now, just white noise that my brain blocks out.

Puppies Can Cure Almost Anything

It has been a day. I’ve been all over the place mentally. So, rather than try to form coherent sentences, I shall just share this video with you of our future furry family member. Try not to die from the cuteness of six, five-week old corgi puppies running outside for the first time. When the world is going to hell, puppies still have the ability to make things better, even if temporarily.

A group of corgis is called a consort. After seeing this video, though, I’m thinking maybe it’s a chaos of corgis.

You’re welcome.

May You Live All The Days Of Your Life

The beast enjoying the fresh snow
The beast enjoying the fresh snow

“May you live all the days of your life.” ~Jonathan Swift

I love this quote. It’s so simple yet eloquent and profound. I mean, every day that you’re alive, you could argue that you’re living. But are you truly living? What does it mean to live versus to be alive? There have been plenty of days in my life when I’ve gone through the motions. I existed. And I was alive in only the most basic sense. I wasn’t living fully, deliberately, or honestly. Living honestly lies in experiencing the senses, feeling your emotions, promoting your consciousness. It lies in the awareness of the present moment and in appreciation for it. It lies in a daily choice to be open, enthusiastic, and mindful.

A few weeks ago, we were buried under February snow. It was cold. I spent most of the month of February this year as I do every year…holed up in my bed under blankets, sipping tea, binge watching shows on Netflix, scarcely moving from my spot, trying to convince myself I was not depressed. February is my annual, 28-day hibernation. One day, though, we had a lovely respite from overcast skies. The snow had stopped, the clouds had cleared the way for swaths of blue, and something called to me to live.

It was 10 degrees when I left my house, bundled in my ski gear, wearing snowshoes, and hauling additional gear. I had no problem coaxing the dog who had been housebound with me out onto the open space for an expedition. Her enthusiasm and joy kept me moving on each time I stopped to catch my breath, enjoy the view, and question my sanity. I was alone and, with no one to challenge me, this walk that would normally take me 15 minutes on a summer day took me close to 25. I was in no hurry. I had no plans other than this one.

Just a girl, her dog, and a sled
Just a girl, her dog, and a sled

When I reached the first hill, I kicked off my Crescent Moon snowshoes and began climbing. Against all logic and better judgment, I’d hauled my son’s bright yellow Zipfy sled out there with me, fully intent on some perpetrating some childlike behavior. You see, the day before school had been cancelled due to snow, and I had watched longingly from my kitchen window as some neighborhood children climbed that normally silent hill and put their mark upon the pristine landscape. My sons sled a lot in our neighborhood during snow season, nearly every afternoon when the weather allows it, but I have never joined them. I’m the mom. I have responsibilities. They would think it was too weird. And I am getting on in years and might break some bones, right?

Upon reaching the top of the hill, I threw the sled down and climbed on. My dog was poised in front of me. She’s a border collie. She loves to herd things. She planned on herding me all the way down the hill. When I finally summoned the nerve, I inched forward with my feet and began sliding down that very steep hill. If it felt steep on the climb up, it felt steeper on the ride down. The dog bounded in and out of my path as I careened down the slope picking up speed. Before I realized it, I had neared the bottom of the hill and noticed what I had not seen before. Those little stinkers had built a ramp. I hit it at full velocity, whooshed into the air, and dropped some obscenities as the sled and I collided with the ground with enough force that I wondered if my neighbor felt the tremor in her home. My face was covered in snow. I felt snow down my shirt. I surrendered into the earth and laughed at the absurdity of a nearly 47-year-old woman collapsed by herself on a deserted sledding hill at noon on a Friday. What kind of crazy woman does that?

I stayed on that hill for about a half an hour longer, hiking up repeatedly so I could retrace the path the children had carved out for me as well as fashion a few lanes of my own. The dog challenged my efforts, lunging at me sporadically while I lurched and swayed my way down the hill in an attempt to avoid running her over. Each time I wiped out. Each run found me increasingly covered in snow. When I’d had enough, I sat and began petting the dog, noticing the chunks of snow in my soaking wet hair, breathing steadily and consciously, feeling gratitude for the time, energy, health, and means to spend an hour of my day outdoors, frivolously free from the mundane.

Seeing that quote today reminded me of my sledding adventure. We adults don’t indulge in living often enough. Swallowed by routine and obligation, we stagnate. We place responsibility over fun, whimsy, and novelty. To make this earthly journey worthwhile, though, we need to remember to let go on occasion. Joy is not just for children and border collies. We need to have our own sledding days, to bear witness to the beauty of nature, to smell the moisture in the air, to feel the sun on our face and the snow down our shirt, to taste the blood from our lip when we bite it on a hard landing, and to laugh out loud at ourselves. That is living.

Going Left Shark

Image credit (http://www.eonline.com/eol_images/Entire_Site/201512/rs_560x388-150202131054-1024.Katy-Perry-Super-Bowl-Shark.2.ms.020115_copy.jpg)
Image courtesy of EOnline.

 

Like many Americans, I watched the Super Bowl a couple of days ago with my family. For the most part, we were not invested in the outcome of the game, with the exception of our youngest who a year ago became a staunch New England Patriots fan (presumably just to vex the rest of us). We were tuned in for the spectacle and the ads and the cultural experience. No one wants to be left out of the conversation on Post Super Bowl Monday when the country is engaging in deep commercial analysis and heated game commentary. One thing our entire family agreed upon was that we were looking forward to seeing what Katy Perry would do at half-time. While none of us are huge Katy Perry fans, we all like her well enough and were decidedly more interested in her show than any of the half-time shows in the past five years. So we watched.

When Katy came out dressed in flames, channeling her inner Katniss Everdeen, and riding a jungle cat for Roar, we were duly impressed. But when Teenage Dream began and the sharks came out, we lost our minds. Seriously. We couldn’t stop giggling over those dang sharks. Joe, our resident Sharkboy, immediately requested a similar costume for Halloween in 9 months. The dancing beach balls and palm trees were fun too, but the sharks were stars. As good as Katy was, no one could mistake that she was being upstaged by sharks. Twitterverse blew up with all kinds of hashtags…#KatyPerrySharks, #dancingsharks, and #superbowlsharks. And pretty soon there were dancing shark memes to pass around. The country apparently felt the same way we did. We fell in love with them en masse.

And nearly as quickly as the shark love affair began, people began singling out the Left Shark (the one on the viewer’s left) as their favorite. There’s always a favorite, right? While the Right Shark was flawlessly performing a highly choreographed dance routine, the Left Shark looked a little off cue, a little goofy, a little devil-may-care. He was the class clown, there for the laugh. Soon everyone was tweeting about #LeftShark. There was an immediate assumption that the Left Shark forgot his choreography and that’s why his movements weren’t in sync with the Right Shark. But the show’s choreographer went on record saying that the Left Shark performed exactly as he was supposed to. And everyone loved him, including me. Right Shark? What Right Shark? Who cares? So conventional. Boooooring!

This morning, though, I was thinking a bit about Right Shark and how he’s been relatively ignored while Left Shark has gone onto Internet infamy. People are saying that he should have been the Super Bowl MVP. I can almost hear Right Shark using his most Jan Brady voice and exclaiming loudly, “Left Shark! Left Shark! Left Shark!” It seems so unfair. I can relate to Right Shark…out there, doing his job, behaving as expected, and feeling unnoticed and under-appreciated. We tend to overlook the thing that is a constant. We tend to notice the novel, the amusing, the different.

Still…there’s something valuable to be learned from the Left Shark phenomenon. We admire someone who can cut loose and have a good time. We laugh at the class clown. We appreciate the one who is brave enough to stand out. We all have that friend who, while perhaps unreliable, always gets invited because they’re just that much fun that the occasional hassle they present is 100% worth it. They say that, in the end, it’s the way you make someone feel that matters most. So we love the Left Sharks of this world because they spread joy, reminding us that life is too short to take seriously.

Go a little Left Shark this week. See what happens.

 

 

 

 

I’m Queen Of The World

There are ponies all over my Message app!

I’ve read blog post after blog post filled with gratitude over the past few days, and these posts made me want to supply my own list of things to be thankful for. Truth is, though, that my list is far too long because I am an unbelievably lucky woman. It’s nauseating how truly fortunate I am. If I weren’t me, I’m not sure I could like me because of how my life has worked out. I’ve made some good choices, worked hard occasionally, and had an obscene amount of good fortune. My life, therefore, is idyllic in the grand scheme of things in this world. I’m positive there are many people who would happily trade lives with me. I don’t blame them. I’m blessed.

Tonight, instead of writing an encyclopedia about all the things that I am grateful for, I’m just going to say that after a perfect day in which the food turned out well, the meal company was exemplary, and our sons were well-behaved, the thing I am most grateful for today is the quiet time I spent with my three boys after everyone had left. We sat on the couch together watching Christmas Vacation, as per our holiday tradition. While sitting there this evening, I felt more at peace than I have in a long time.

Months ago Joe began watching My Little Pony, a fact which vexed me more than I care to admit. I simply do not get it. He watches it enough that I now regularly find the theme song in my head and I have begun calling him Princess Rainbow Dash just for giggles. Tonight, while we sat less than three feet from each other on our sectional sofa, I began randomly texting him photos of the ponies from My Little Pony. He was in awe. He could not figure out how I was doing it. I got such a kick out of his shock at my awesomeness. Seriously? How does one get confused by something so rudimentary? When I finally explained how I was doing it, Joe looked at me like I had given him the Holy Grail. And, tonight, despite the fact that I could carry on ad nauseam about the things I count among my blessings, I am grateful above all for the fact that sometimes I can tell that my son still believes I can create magic because I’m smart, capable, and clever. There’s no better feeling in the world.

A Small Tsunami Of Gratitude

(Author’s Note: I try to keep this a PG blog, but there is a link at the bottom of this page to some very happy, positive, enthusiastic profanity. I’m blaming it on Jason Mraz, but I’m encouraging it by sharing it here. Consider yourself warned.)

Rainy night with Jason Mraz at Red Rocks

Sometimes I find that things I’m not too sure about turn out to be the best gifts. I went with my friend, Shari, last night to see Jason Mraz perform at Red Rocks Amphitheater. I didn’t go because I’m a huge Jason Mraz fan. I went because I like Shari and because she asked and because I love concerts at Red Rocks. I saw my first show there in 1985 at the ripe old age of 17. (Oh…okay. Fine. If you must know, my first Red Rocks show was Howard Jones. It was the 80s. I was a teenager. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.) Shari moved to Denver two summers ago but hadn’t yet seen a show at my favorite venue, so I was excited to accompany her even if I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect from the concert.

It was raining, so we geared up with waterproof jackets, umbrellas, and brown plastic lawn bags and braved the elements. We walked up the breath-taking ramp to the amphitheater, found our seats in Row 22, and settled in despite the steady rain. When the opening act had finished and Jason came on, it was still raining. Once we were three songs into the show I realized that the truly beautiful thing about Jason Mraz, whether or not you enjoy his music, is that he is a positive, happy soul and his attitude has the power to make things seem better. If you are a lyrics person, you will find his songs are filled with life-affirming joy and love. I stood in the 50-degree rain for four hours last night and never felt cold. That should say something about the sunshine this man is able to share.

Unless you’re a huge Jason Mraz fan, you may not have heard the song I am about to recommend. I hadn’t heard it until last night, but it was the highlight of my rainy evening. Jason explained that this song is about starting a tsunami of gratitude. I like the sound of that. The song made me smile. It reminded me how important it is to acknowledge the good in everyone you meet. So, I am paying it forward by sharing. Please know that I am truly grateful for your support. I’m 70 posts away from my goal of 366, a full year of daily blogs. I wouldn’t have kept up with it if it hadn’t been for your kindness in bothering to read what I have to say. Maybe you know someone who could use a pat on the back for something they’ve shared, created, begun, or accomplished? Share this song and start a small tsunami of gratitude of your own.

You Fckn Did It